NMU’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has approved a contractual agreement with the administration after months of negotiations.
The AAUP held a ratification meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 4, during which 236 members voted on the contract. There were 179 in favor of ratification, 55 against, one abstention and one disqualified vote. This approval comes more than a month after the AAUP had previously rejected a proposed contractual agreement on Sept. 23.
“I am pleased with the vote that we had. I think that we made substantial gains on the issues of shared governance that we initially had and we made slight gains on the financials,” said Ron Sundell, the president of NMU’s chapter of the AAUP and geography professor.
According to Sundell, in the initial proposal for the three-year contract, AAUP members would receive a 2 percent increase in base pay for the first year, and receive a 0 percent increase for years two and three. The approved contract is the same except for a one-time payment of $700 in the second year.
Sundell said that while the terms of the approved contract provide some financial security for faculty members, salaries for NMU professors are still low in comparison to other peer institutions.
“We certainly understand the economic hardships of the day . but we think that the administration needs to look at its funding priorities at this university and we believe that further efforts can be made for the administration to direct more money towards teaching,” Sundell said.
Shared governance, the process of the administration including faculty members in setting university policies, was also addressed by changes in the contract.
“We certainly have an improved contract. The union still has work to do. We always have to keep vigilant concerning issues of shared governance with the administration,” Sundell said. “In any contract there is an interpretation of language. The union needs to [make sure] that our interpretation is the same as the administration’s.”
Sundell said that the economy played a substantial role in the contract being approved.
“Under the current economic climate, this might be the best we can get. I think that might be why it was ratified. There were still 55 no-votes, which shows that a number of faculty believe that the administration could have provided more financial support,” said Sundell.
Cindy Paavola, the director of communications and marketing at NMU, said that the university sought to provide a reasonable pay increase for employees.
“We think it’s a pretty solid contract, we value our faculty and the work they do with our students,” said Paavola. “There were faculty members who thought it was reasonable in these tough economic times, and there were those who thought it wasn’t enough.”
If the financial situation in the state changes later, the terms of the contract can be opened so that the university can be able to increase the amount they pay professors yearly.
“The contract can be opened in the final two years. It gives some time to find out what’s going to happen in relation to university funding, which is really in flux at the state level at this time,” said Paavola.
Issues concerning shared governance presented challenges in the negotiation process, said Paavola.
“I think shared governance is one of those topics that brings out passion in people. When you’re talking about these things, it’s their job. When you talk about things that change people’s jobs there are always concerns,” she said. “It’s not surprising that it was an issue that needed a lot of discussion and there will be further discussion in the future.”
Charles Leith, a professor of psychology at NMU, said that he is glad that the contract negotiation process is over. He also said that ambiguous wording played a large role in the rejection of the initial proposed contract.
“There was language that could have been misinterpreted, and I think that’s why it was voted down,” said Leith. “[The negotiators] went back and revised the language. They got language that the faculty could live with, and the administration threw in a couple extra dollars.”
Leith said that how the contract addressed shared governance was more important than the pay increases.
“Everybody knew it was a bad year for salary, but it’s never a bad year to clear up governance issues, and I think we got that done,” said Leith.